Monday, 25 April 2011

Teacher professionalism and craft: a view from TLRP

A recent publication from TLRP, a Commentary on Professionalism and pedagogy, which I wasn't aware of when I wrote my paper on craft (see post before this), seems to me pretty compatible with it - here is a quote from the introduction:

'In a world-class educational workforce – Finland might be used as an example – teachers are the ones who initiate discussions about pedagogy, and then evaluate and critique the ideas they develop. This ‘pedagogic discourse’ aspires to be explicitly grounded in the scrutiny of ideas, theories, ethical values and empirical evidence. It goes well beyond simplified prescription, for instance of ‘what works', and supersedes reliance on centrally-imposed performance targets. In their place is greater trust in teachers’ capacity for self-improvement as an inherent element of their professional identity. However, this trust has to be earned – hence the focus in this Commentary on the nature of pedagogic expertise....

Teaching is a professional activity underpinned by qualifications, standards and accountabilities. It is characterised by complex specialist knowledge and expertise-in-action. In liberal democratic societies, it also
embodies particular kinds of values, to do with furthering individual and social development, fulfilment and emancipation.

‘Pedagogy’ is the practice of teaching framed and informed by a shared and structured body of knowledge. This knowledge comprises experience, evidence, understanding moral purpose and shared transparent values. It is by virtue of progressively acquiring such knowledge and mastering the expertise – through initial training, continuing development, reflection and classroom inquiry and regulated practice – that teachers are entitled to be treated as professionals. Teachers should be able and willing to scrutinise and evaluate their own and others’ practice in the light of relevant theories, values and evidence. They should be able to make professional judgements which go beyond pragmatic constraints and ideological concerns, and which can be explained and defended.

Furthermore, pedagogy is impoverished if it is disconnected from the capacity and responsibility to engage in curriculum development and to deploy a range of appropriate assessment methodologies....

Pedagogic expertise can be thought of as a combination of science, craft and art; this notion helps us to understand the complementary needs for collectively created knowledge, professional skills and personal capacities. It is also important to remember that all these are grounded in ethical principles and moral commitment – teaching is never simply an instrumental activity, a question just of technique.

One of the challenges for pedagogical discourse is to distinguish between what is known in a scientific sense of being explicit, cumulative and generalisable, and what are the irreducibly intuitive and creative elements of teaching.

It is generally accepted now that good teaching requires strategic decisions informed by evidence. But it also requires a large number of implicit and often instantaneous judgements and decisions. These are responses to the dynamic situation in the classroom, often shaped by the ‘community of practice’ to which the teacher belongs. They are also expressions of each teacher’s individual relationship with his or her pupils: how s/he generates a positive classroom climate or takes advantage of unexpected teaching and learning opportunities. This is the ‘craft’ and the ‘art’ of teaching.

And we all need to acknowledge this paradox of teaching – that the more expert a teacher becomes, the more his/her expertise is manifested in sensitivity to contexts and situations, in imaginative judgements in-the-moment sourced from tacit knowledge. The importance of these forms of expertise is often underestimated. Indeed, they often become so embedded, instinctive and taken-for-granted that they are barely recognised.'

This takes the discussion in my craft paper (earlier post) much further into the nitty gritty of teaching expertise, and while using the new government's language of craft, is also aiming, like me, to prevent a reductive use by politicians of the concept of craft in relation to teaching. I am particularly pleased to see them call for teacher profesionalism that goes beyond the 'what works' idea, which now seems to me to rather facile.  Given that this seems to have been published in June 2010, I'm hoping it might be sign that a rich version of the craft metaphor for teaching might be a little bit of zeitgeist!

The bluebell wood above, seen in West Sussex yesterday afternoon, sems to me  good image for 'irreducibly intuitive' elements of the expertise of teachers.  You can't really explain it - you just have to stand and admire....

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